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Past winners from the Wine Companion

By Halliday Wine Companion

2 Aug, 2019

We reflect on those wines, wineries and winemakers named among Australia’s best by James Halliday in his annual guide. Who will be next?

Every year, James Halliday chooses six major award winners – Winery of the Year, Wine of the Year, Winemaker of the Year, Dark Horse of the Year, Best New Winery and Best Value Winery – from the thousands of Australian wines tasted for the annual Halliday Wine Companion guide. These awards are presented at a ceremony on the evening before the release of the book. Ahead, we round up every award winner since the inception of that event, plus a few from before then, too.

The consistently excellent wineries:

The Winery of the Year award is the longest standing in the Halliday Wine Companion guide, preceding the annual eventParinga Estate was the first winner back in 2007 (see more below).

You can’t talk about Australian wine without mention of Penfolds, the Barossa Valley powerhouse that’s pinnacle label, Grange, is guaranteed to get wine lovers’ eyes to light up. This iconic brand was named Winery of the Year at the inaugural Halliday Wine Companion Awards.

Fellow Barossa winery Hentley Farm Wines (which coincidentally snagged ex-Penfolds viticulturist Greg Mader) was the next cab off the rank, with a whopping 19 red wines scoring between 94 and 98 points in that year’s guide. Shiraz was the star, followed closely by cabernet sauvignon.

Multigenerational label Tahbilk got the gong the following year, impressing with its continuous history and rare wines from ancient vines. Tahbilk’s 19th-century vineyard and underground cellars still stand in central Victoria today.

It would be remiss for the Hunter Valley’s Mount Pleasant not to get a mention. The legacy of Australian wine legend Maurice O’Shea is now under the stewardship of McWilliam’s Wines, and the New South Wales winery is home to an exceptional line-up of shiraz and semillon.

Family-run Yarra Valley label Mount Mary is recognised for its perfectionist approach to French classics, with pinot noir and chardonnay among the highlights. “Elegance, balance, purity and length” are all words used to describe these wines.

That brings us to the reigning champ, Seville Estate. Like Mount Mary, this family winery is a pioneer of the Upper Yarra that was also founded by a former doctor. But distinctly, Seville Estate is a long-time champion of shiraz in this cooler area.

Other award winners: Balnaves of Coonawarra (2008), Tyrrell’s (2010), Larry Cherubino Wines (2011), Port Phillip Estate (2012), Kilikanoon (2013).


The standout wines:

James Halliday’s first Wine of the Year was the 2010 Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir. Near to the southernmost point of Australia, the cooler climate of Gippsland in Victoria provides ideal growing conditions for pinot noir, and Bass Phillip is a cult producer of the variety in this area.

Cabernet sauvignon is one of Australia’s most underrated varieties, but considering its high calibre, it deserves more attention. From a leading cabernet region and a winery not new to accolades, the 2011 Xanadu Stevens Road Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon was the second Wine of the Year.

It’s rare when quality and affordability combine, but they do in the 2014 Serrat Yarra Valley Shiraz Viognier. This 99-point red retailed at $42 at the time of its win, and in spite of the huge demand for and limited supply of this wine, the price tag remains practically the same today.

From a tiny 15 rows of vines planted in 1867, the 2014 Best’s Thomson Family Great Western Shiraz is a “truly glorious wine” from the Grampians in Victoria, only released in the best years. 

Of course, Henschke, the Eden Valley family winery with an incredible pedigree, would eventually appear here. The 2012 Henschke Hill of Grace gets the gong for its profound sense of place, elegance and history – the crown jewel of an outstanding range and a “magnificent, flawless wine”.

It was a surprise to many when a riesling received a 99-point score from James, as he had never awarded a white wine so highly before. Even more surprising was the price of this wine, retailing for just $35. The 2017 Duke’s Vineyard Magpie Hill Reserve Riesling is the reigning Wine of the Year and a stellar example of what the Great Southern can do with this variety.


The best value wineries:

Yarra Valley winery Hoddles Creek Estate frequently appears in the under-$30 categories of the Great Reds and Top 100 lists. Its wines offers exceptional value, particularly its pinot noir.

Western Australia’s West Cape Howe Wines prides itself on showcasing the best of the state’s regions, and it does so with aplomb. Its extensive range of wines regularly over-delivers.

Another west-coast star, former Winery of the Year winner Larry Cherubino Wines continues to impress. Consistency and high-quality fruit are key.

Clare Valley’s Grosset is one of Australia’s most premium wineries. As James says, though, on a world scale, these wines are significantly underpriced. Winemaker Jeffrey Grosset is famed for his riesling, but he also makes excellent chardonnay, pinot noir, and white blends.

The name says it all – Provenance produces top-tier south-west Victorian wines using first-rate fruit from Ballarat, Henty, the Macedon Ranges and its home base in Geelong (now with a stunning cellar door in a restored 1870s paper mill).


The award-winning winemakers:

Robert Diletti of Castle Rock is a classic quiet achiever. In his humble way, he attributes his great wines to great sites – James says he prefers German-American wine merchant Peter Sichel’s view that the vineyard determines the character of the wine, the winemaker the quality. In addition to his role with Castle Rock, Rob is a contract winemaker and helped create current Wine of the Year the 2017 Duke’s Vineyard Magpie Hill Reserve Riesling.

Peter Fraser realised his love for wine in an unusual place – as an officer in the Australian Army. It was after trying iconic Aussie reds in the officers’ mess hall that he decided to pursue a degree in oenology. Today, Peter is at the helm of Yangarra Estate Vineyard in McLaren Vale, a brand he helped the US-based Jackson Family Wine Group to establish. Rhone varieties such as grenache and shiraz are key, and the vineyard employs strict biodynamic practices.

When Sarah Crowe stepped into the chief winemaker position at Yarra Yering in 2013, she was faced with some weighty expectations. Dr Bailey Carrodus founded the winery in 1969, and before he passed in 2008, he expressed his wish that his brand is carried on in much the same way. Despite Bailey’s ghost looking over her shoulder, Sarah has made her mark while still respecting the range in a way that few others could.

Bleasdale is a historic South Australian winery and, similar to Sarah, winemaker Paul Hotker has had to be mindful of the established style. But over more than 10 years with the brand, he has steadily elevated the range and added his touch, producing leading Langhorne Creek wines.

Margaret River-based Julian Langworthy is one of Australia’s favourite winemakers. He also makes excellent wine and has the overflowing trophy cabinet to prove it. Deep Woods Estate is his primary focus, but he consults to several other wineries in his role with the Fogarty Wine Group.


The dark horses:

The success of Singlefile Wines is manifold. It starts with the purchase of an 18-year-old vineyard in Western Australia’s Denmark by owners Phil and Viv Snowden. Add a little help from Larry Cherubino of former Winery of the Year and Best New Winery fame, top fruit from across the state and a crack winemaking team, and you have a winning formula.

After being bought by four industry veterans in 2008, Haselgrove Wines in McLaren Vale was “a winery on the move”, according to James. Following a reboot of the range, today, this is a five-star winery making diverse wine styles. 

Originally intended to be a weekend escape for owner Peter Slattery, Terindah Estate is in a spectacular spot right on the water in Geelong. After realising its wine-producing potential, 40 acres of vines, a winery, cellar door and restaurant were added to the site. Several wines are grown and made here, but shiraz and pinot noir are top performers.

The revival of Margaret River’s Arlewood Estate has been a labour of love. Following a number of ownership changes, Garry Gosatti bought the site in 2007 and proceeded to spend four years living and working on the rundown vineyard. The estate-grown wines, made by Stuart Pym of former Best New Winery Flowstone, reflect the care that has gone in. Semillon, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon are the heroes. 

Yarra Valley’s Boat O’Craigo winery is a family-run business that in recent years has seen son Travers Graham come in and take the reins, giving the whole operation a facelift. James took notice and raised the winery’s score from four to five stars, as well as naming it his Dark Horse of 2018. Winemaker and former Best New Winery winner Rob Dolan is the talent behind the scenes.

Principia is a dark horse in more ways than one. After falling in love with wine on a trip to the Barossa, owner/operator Darrin Gaffy gave away his 25-year career as an engineer to start this Mornington Peninsula winery. Having never completed any formal winemaking training, Darrin has worked it out along the way, which makes this win all the more impressive. The philosophy is one of minimal interference, and Darrin produces just two varieties – pinot noir and chardonnay.


The best new wineries:

Rob Dolan has been making wine for almost 30 years, but it was only in 2011 that he launched a brand of his own. The purchase of a substantial Yarra Valley winery allowed Rob to continue expanding his contract winemaking business, consulting to producers in Australia and abroad, as well as make an impressive range under his Rob Dolan Wines label.

Margaret River’s Flowstone Wines shot out of the gate with sky-high points, with James then remarking that “there has never been a more stellar launch of a new winery”. The venture of long-time winemaker Stuart Pym and Phil Giglia, this winery continues to shine year in and year out.

Bicknell FC is not David Bicknell’s first rodeo. In collaboration with wife Nicky, this winery is a creative side project for the Oakridge chief winemaker, and they make the wines primarily for family and friends. Pinot noir and chardonnay take centre stage.

The eponymous winery of Andre and Selina Bondar encompasses one of McLaren Vale’s best vineyard sites, Rayner, which was previously owned by Wirra Wirra and the source of fruit for esteemed labels like Brokenwood. Their debut in the Halliday Wine Companion guide and first-ever releases included 95-point chardonnay, grenache and shiraz.

Yarra Valley’s Dappled Wine had been around since 2009, but it took winemaker Shaun Crinion some years before submitting anything to James for tasting. “Because I’m quite small, I don’t really send out my wines for review,” he says. James was so taken with Shaun’s pinot noir and chardonnay that he named Dappled Best New Winery right off the bat.

Mewstone Wines is a tiny winery in the beautiful D'Entrecasteaux Channel region of Tasmania. It was started by business-savvy brothers Jonathan and Matthew Hughes (winemaker Jonathan has an economics degree and a background as a wine distributor, and Matt is a banker). They make a range of wines, but among the stars are pinot and riesling.

To find out the next batch of award winners first, become a Halliday Wine Companion member.